Leaders and representatives of Japan and Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members, including Prime Minister Henry Puna, issued a joint statement after recently attending the Eighth Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM8), held in Fukushima, Japan.
The statement covers a wide range of areas, including increased maritime security and cooperation in the international arena.
The leaders welcomed the ‘Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula’, issued at the Inter-Korean Summit late last month.
The declaration confirmed a common goal of the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and expressed hope that the planned US-North Korea Summit would deliver concrete actions towards denuclearisation.
The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to exerting continued pressure on North Korea, including the full implementation and enforcement of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) against North Korea.
“In particular, the leaders expressed deep concerns about North Korea’s sanction-evading tactics, including ship-to-ship transfers,” said a release from PALM8.
Ship-to-ship transfers of goods and supplies are banned by the UNSCR. The UN Security Council Resolution 2375, unanimously adopted in September 2017 in the wake of Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, banned all ship-to-ship transfers.
Pacific leaders were also asked to deregister all North Korean trading or fishing vessels currently flagged on their shipping registers.
According to Maritime Cook Islands chief executive officer Glenn Armstrong, there are currently no North Korean vessels registered here, nor are there any operating within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“No ships that have been to North Korea have been flying the Cook Islands flag for at least five or six years,” Armstrong said.
Maritime Cook Islands sent out a notice yesterday advising ship owners, managers and deputy registrars of illicit shipping practices being employed by North Korea.
“The Flag Administration will exercise zero tolerance if any Cook Islands flagged vessels are found transferring fuel to any vessel listed in the US Coast Guard’s list of prohibited vessels,” the release stated.
CINews understands that there are more than 20 Chinese fishing vessels registered to operate within the Cook Islands EEZ. These ships have previously conducted in-port transhipment of catch, which was approved by the government. It is illegal to conduct at sea transhipment of catch in Cook Islands waters.
China is North Korea’s most important trading partner and main source of food and energy. It has helped sustain Kim Jong-un’s regime and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding a regime collapse and any influx of refugees across the border.
China is also the Cook Islands’ second largest aid partner, having invested $71.93 million in the country from 2006 to 2016. This is more money than Australia, the European Union, Japan, and the United States of America combined over the same period.
With the Cook Islands and other Pacific nations being reliant on Chinese aid, the effects of minnow countries taking sides over the North Korea issue could eventually prove costly.
China is yet to respond to the leader’s call for denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. It is unknown if they will impose sanctions on countries appearing to take the side of the United States and President Donald Trump.
If China does choose to impose such sanctions, it is likely they will significantly decrease their aid spending throughout the region. The flow-on effects of this remain to be seen.